Roll the Dice For All Humanity

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So let’s keep sending messages to the stars. Now that we can finally say something to aliens, maybe they’ll be curious to converse with the creatures in this zoo.

John Tierney
May 24, 2024
Instapundit » Blog Archive » WHY ET WON’T WIPE US OUT: Humanity Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Say Hello to Aliens. I enjoyed the “3 Body

Read the whole thing and beware of the False Consensus Effect.

Saying, “Hello” to aliens may have wonderful results or cause the extermination of our species. I don’t even have a guess where on that continuum the dice will land. What I do know is that we cannot logically know the answer ahead of time. Any rationale you come up with will have the bias of assuming they are somewhat like us. This, almost for certain, is a false assumption. And even my assertion they are different could be wrong.

Still, I am willing to roll the dice. I am an optimist.


29 thoughts on “Roll the Dice For All Humanity

  1. I can’t shake this mental image of the man who’s listened to the neighbor’s dog barking at night for months on end, then finally can take no more and gets his gun.

    Too much coffee, or not enough? Can’t tell.

  2. First Contact with ETs is one of the classic subjects of science fiction, and quite a number of authors have done a great job with it. Even Arthur C. Clarke (Rendezvous with Rama, 2001). Also Heinlein (Puppet Masters), James P. Hogan (Inherit the Stars trilogy, Code of the Lifemaker), Niven (many times: Footfall is particularly good). I’m sure I could make a list of dozens of novels and short stories, with many premises/outcomes, all plausible, from very positive (Inherit the Stars) to utterly neutral (Rama) to nasty (Puppet Masters, Footfall).

    One of them referenced a book that may be real but I don’t have it, entitled “To Serve Man”. Supposedly it’s a cookbook, a clever English word play.

    • That was an episode of “The Twilight Zone”. “To Serve Man.” Funny as it gets.
      The aliens show up and give us world peace. And a book called, “To Serve Man.”
      And just as the main character (a government cipher guy), is getting on the alien spacecraft to go to the beautiful new world.
      His secretary run up and screams. Don’t go! It’s a cook book!
      And the alien shoves him on the craft and slams the door.
      My favorite space alien movie is the original “Day the earth stood still”. And you could almost see us getting there with true AI. (Autonomous police force.)
      After he warns us that we have been ignored for years as a backward planet. But now were going into space. And if we bring our bullshit up there. They will destroy us.
      “We concern ourselves with other pursuits, as the cost for doing evil is too great.”

    • “To Serve Man” was an episode from an early-season Twilight Zone. The alien Kanamint race accidently left a copy laying around, and a translator got ahold of it, too late to save her friend who had just boarded the Kanamint spacecraft for fattening and dinner festivities.

    • Robert Heinlein’s “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel” involves first contact with aliens, too. Both the ones that view us as food, and the ones that view us as ill-behaved children to be checked on later to see if we have learned to behave any better.

  3. To be fair, if we spend enough time trying to tell other intelligent species that we exist, the response is likely to be “yeah, we know”.

  4. I find Marko Kloos’s Frontlines series intriguing. He keeps his aliens very alien. Why do they do what they do? What do they want? How does their technology work? The humans are constantly trying to figure them out, to little success. He does a great job of reminding the reader that aliens will likely be very different from us, and trying to understand them on human terms, even earth-based biological terms, is likely futile.

      • Larry Niven is as good as any of them, and probably better, in putting himself into the alien minds of his non-human characters. One I remember well is in Ringworld, where a human and a Kzin (sentient tiger, roughly) are exploring. They are looking for food and come across a dead goat. The human proceeds to roast it. The Kzin looks at that skeptically and comments “I know that meat isn’t very fresh, but I don’t think cremation is the answer”.
        Or in his short story “The soft weapon”: a human and a puppeteer (3-legged herbivore) are trying to hide on an ice-covered planet, and the human is attacked by aliens who are melting the ice around him. He transmits to the puppeteer: “Nessus, is there any water around you?” The reply: “only in the solid form.”

    • Ya, alien contact should always start with mathematics. As 2+2=4 is universal, everywhere.
      Well, maybe not with Biden/Obama’s NASA.

      • My favorite mathematics saying is from Jaques Futrelle’s The Thinking Machine Series: “A good lawyer can tell you, as Professor Augustus Van Dusen, Ph.D., LL.D., F.R.S. M.D. M.D.S, is fond of saying, that ‘Two plus Two equals Four; not just some of the time, but all of the time.’ ”
        To which I can only add, that “A great lawyer can tell you when 2 + 2 = 10 or even 2 + 2 = 11, without violating any law of mathematics.”

    • I like the way Timothy Gawne made his aliens in his Old Guy/Cybertank Adventures series: aliens are so alien that we don’t have common reference to discuss things beyond basic mathematics. We can create mathematical models of the way the aliens behave, like a LLM, but we’ll never understand them.

      In fact, we don’t know what they call themselves, how they communicate amongst themselves, or even what they look like in most cases. To the extent that there is any inter-species communication, it’s by long-range lasers using a sort of diplomatic pidgin with very present-tense statements: “That belongs to us”, “If you don’t cross that line, we won’t cross this one”, etc. No poetry or art or anything like that.

      In fact, the one thing you want to protect at all costs from aliens are the things we don’t protect amongst ourselves: literature, art, philosophy, religious texts, etc. The bases of our psychological makeup, or at least expressions closely downstream of our internal thought processes. If aliens got ahold of that stuff, and bolted it into their model of how we internally operated, they could deceive us at will, play to our psychological weaknesses and blind spots, and basically play us for puppets. Compared to that, knowing how particle cannons, missiles, fusion plants or our basic biology work is just an inconvenience. When we do meet aliens, we’re likely to be meetings artificial constructs, biological or mechanical, that reveal very little of original alien species so they can’t be captured, reverse engineered or analyzed to produce a threat against the parent species.

  5. Anyone seeing this beautiful blue planet would know water when they see it. And thus the ability to sustain life.
    The real problem is that of travel time. As traveling below the speed of light makes space journeys damn near impossible.
    And if one is running random gravity or folding space. There’s probably a lot of other places much more interesting to go to. And much nicer creatures to interact with.
    I was listening to a late night “Art Bell” radio program once. And his guest that was in contact with aliens said humans were far too violent to make contact with.
    I can see their point.
    So, Yack, Yack. And keep your “Slim Whitman”, handy.

  6. The Three Body Problem series delves into this question. The author is not an optimist. A great SF series.

  7. Half the aliens say, What a nice place to visit!
    The other half say, What a great place to pillage!

    You don’t get to pick which half shows up.

    • Some writers chose “that’s not an interesting place”. It doesn’t make for great fiction. Rendezvous with Rama is one example, which is typical Arthur C. Clarke: celebral but not particularly captivating.
      For that matter, some writers create scenarios where Earth is a place not at all hospitable to the aliens in question: Niven’s “Outsiders” are one example, beings whose metabolism is based on liquid helium.

      • Two of the more interesting are: 1) Ginger is highly addictive to the alien invaders; and 2) Maple syrup is a strongly intoxicating beverage to a technologically advanced species.

        • Especially in the case of the maple syrup where it starts a series of “trade ups” from the forests of Vermont and Quebec to Death Stars.

  8. I give you Dave Weber’s “Out of the Dark” series. Earth humans/vampires vs alien invasion, what’s not to like??

  9. All of the talk of send messages/don’t send messages is kind of moot. Commercial radio transmissions have been heading out away from Earth since the 1920s, so concerns about letting alien races know we are here is a conversation being held outside the barn as we are closing the door on the empty stable.

    • Almost all high power radio signals prior to the end of WWII were either low frequency, medium wave, or shortwave. Those frequencies were chosen because the ionosphere refracted them back to Earth, enabling longer distance communication.

      It wasn’t until high powered TV, VHF broadcast radio, and the use of microwave radar became common after WWII that we had any significant leakage.

  10. Even the people who assume we live in a “Star Trek” type universe, seem to think the aliens we meet will be like the federation, and not Romulans.

  11. The first extraterrestrial message we receive will be “another civilization responded to our beacons, and now they are feeding us into the ovens.”

  12. From the article: I enjoyed the “3 Body Problem” Netflix series and the sci-fi trilogy on which it’s based, but I disagree with the premise: that sending a message to an extraterrestrial civilization would doom Earth.

    I enjoyed the Netflix series, too. (I haven’t read the books.)

    However, he’s missing one critical plot point [spoiler alert, but it’s a small one]: The Chinese scientists sent transmissions into space, and someone did respond…

    … with a warning, that the individual recipient was pacifist, but its species as a whole was not — far from it — practically begging the humans to not send again because if anyone else on its planet got a message, they’d come and conquer Earth.

    [end spoiler]

    But sure, in context that warning totally doesn’t mean that “sending a message to an extraterrestrial civilization would doom Earth”! I mean, it’s the entire premise of the show/series, but it doesn’t mean what it means! [/sarcasm]


  13. Murray Leinster’s “First Contact” goes back to 1945 but we meet the other guys in deep space. A fun story and worthy of an honorary Hugo when that award still meant something.

    To me it is kind of a moot point, we’ve been broadcasting into the void since Marconi (and Tesla, and others) did their first experiments with AM radio, thru FM radio, radar, analog TV, and now cell phones but it will take decades to centuries or longer before the faint remains reach other stars, and just as long for anyone to respond.

    Until we create a warp drive or FTL radio we will never leave this cosmic atoll, we will only able to throw messages in bottles into the void to hope for an answer someday.

    • … it will take decades to centuries or longer before the faint remains reach other stars, and just as long for anyone to respond.

      I remember reading that between cosmic dust, debris, and EM radiation interference from any number of sources, the signal quality and clarity deteriorate quickly; within a couple light-years they are pretty much indistinguishable from the cosmic background noise.

      We like to think that extraterrestrial civilizations will learn about Earth’s culture by watching our television programs — it is an amusing thought! — but the reality is, by the time the transmissions get out far enough that anyone might be listening, it’s all indecipherable junk data barely detectable above the baseline.

      (At least with the state of our technology when that was written. It’s possible — however unlikely — that more advanced analysis using alien technology could extrapolate the signal from whatever minor variations still remain, but given the scale of the universe, it would have to be pretty damned advanced.)

  14. I would send Battle at Trillblow, The Crepitation Contest from CBC 1947 and autographed Slurms McKenzie promo of Whimmy Wham Wham Wozzle fame to the aliens and some canned flatulence to go with the farting contest.
    All in a gesture of good will and peace.

  15. Doesn’t matter if we intentionally attempt to send them messages or not, they’ll still hear us anyway. Especially via the one type of radio signal most people ignore when talking about extraterrestrials eavesdropping on us: Radar.

    It’s possible using current Earth technology to detect a common WSR-88D NEXRAD weather radar out to about a dozen light years. Some of the more powerful astronomical radars would be detectable to us out to hundreds of light years.

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